February 22, 2015

ASBS Convention Calls for Holistic Implementation of RTE Act

S M Paranjape

MORE than 400 parents, mostly women, filled the Vanamali Hall in Dadar of Mumbai beyond its capacity at the call of Anudanit Shiksha Bachao Samiti (ASBS) for a convention on implementation in letter and spirit of the Right to Education Act in the coming academic year (2015-2016). The Act stipulates, inter alia, that non-minority aided and un-aided private schools have to fill minimum 25 percent of their seat capacity with children from the socially disadvantaged and economically weaker sections.

Ever since the Supreme Court gave the go-ahead for the Right to Education Act in April, 2012, ASBS has been in the forefront of the struggle for its implementation in Mumbai and surrounding areas. But this is the first year when parents started lining up at the offices of CPI(M) in Andheri, Dharavi, Ghatkopar and many other localities to get their children enlisted with ASBS. They know that these organisations will not betray their trust. The prestige of ASBS increased after the Mumbai High Court not only heard its public interest litigation but also passed a slew of orders against the lethargic Government of Maharashtra and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation that had miserably failed to discharge their obligations.

What stands out in this movement is the zest and determination among the womenfolk, particularly those belonging to the Muslim community, from families earning barely Rs 8,000 per month. The deteriorating labour scenario and increasing numbers of contract workers, coupled with stringent restrictions on hawking in the city, have contributed to the worsening of the living conditions among the hutment dwellers of Mumbai. Mothers in poor households are keen that their children should escape from the trap through access to quality education in schools, which until now have catered only to the well-to-do and the super-rich.

People living in areas where ASBS has been active have watched its work closely and seen the successes scored by it in three consecutive years. Its work during this period shows that the number of children getting admissions on account of the Samiti’s intervention swelled from 150 in 2012 to 450 in 2013 and over 1,400 in the academic year 2014-15. This has created confidence in them that the struggles waged by ASBS, DYFI and SFI, under the leadership of the Party, will bear fruit. Moreover, they have also witnessed the selfless commitment of ASBS in pursuing cases where palpable injustice has been done by schools in connivance with the authorities. And the fearless militancy encourages parents to expose corruption and demand that government officials speed up their work of issuing income certificates that are vital in the admission process.

The recent demonstration of 200 parents of Dharavi, led by ASBS convener K Narayan, at the Old Customs House against the tehsildar of island city of Mumbai is a case in point. The officer has now agreed to issue certificates in batches of 50 at the minimum cost required for them. Our volunteers work day in and day out to help the parents not only to enrol their children for the online procedure that lies ahead, but also give guidance on the documents that they will have to keep ready. All this has led to people from newer areas also joining the mainstream. About 25 women from areas like Bandra came to the convention while social workers from Kurla and Madanpura, who came to know about the event from the Press, have vowed to start activities in their areas.

The change of guard in the state has not brought any relief to the people. People who voted out the erstwhile coalition government of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party have quickly become disillusioned due to the repetition of the dithering and flip-flops on the education front by the BJP-Shiv Sena government which has completed over four months in office. Education Minister Vinod Tawade has a penchant for tweeting. In fact, a recent policy decision announced by an official from the School Education Department regarding starting of admissions for the RTE-reserved 25 percent free seats before the admissions are done for the 75 percent “paid” seats was negated by Tawade through a tweet! Same was the case regarding the age to be prescribed for admission in pre-primary classes consistent with the RTE Act. With just the tap of a key, Tawade’s tweet got the applicability of the limits postponed to the next year at the behest of the mighty managements! There has been no decision yet on the starting date for the admissions for children belonging to the weaker sections, hence the urgency for holding the convention.

The convention was chaired by Sonia Gill, leader of the All India Democratic Women’s Association. During his inaugural address, Mahendra Singh, secretary of the Mumbai Committee of CPI(M) and a convener of ASBS, recounted the commitments made by leaders of the freedom movement who were unanimous in their vision that free and compulsory education for every child would be the foundation stone of India freed from the colonial yoke. Although this was enshrined in the Constitution as an obligation on the government of the day, its observation was more in the breach and the deadline of 10 years (before the year 1960) was postponed and then abandoned. Singh recalled the role of the Left parties and the pressure they exerted on UPA-I government to pass social legislation such as the MNREGA guaranteeing 100 days’ employment in rural areas and the Right to Education Act. Singh pointed out that the promise made by previous state education minister Rajendra Darda of getting an audience for ASBS with the newly-appointed education commissioner was never kept by him. He also pointed out the failure of incumbent education minister Tawade to give an appointment despite several requests having been made since November, 2014.

CPI(M) Mumbai Committee member S M Paranjape highlighted the enormous mismatch between the number of children (25,000) who ought to be covered under the RTE Act and the number of seats made available last year (8,000). He also presented the Draft Resolution and highlighted its main aspects -- immediate beginning of the admission process for 25 percent seats to complete it before March 1 this year and to incorporate it in the Rules as a fixed ongoing process from the following year; raising the income limit from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 3 lakh in view of the steep rise in cost of living since 2012 when the first limit was fixed; and compulsorily enlisting of each and every school – aided as well un-aided – that is eligible for this quota and cancelling forthwith the registration of schools failing to do so. In order to introduce a credible deterrent, the authorities must issue a clear directive that schools failing to adhere to the above mentioned schedules and refusing to honour allotment letters will be penalised, even to the extent of cancellation of their recognition and/or takeover by the appropriate authority.

The resolution appealed to the government to incorporate through a regulation the circular issued by the Director of Primary Education, Maharashtra prohibiting schools from charging any sort of fees for children admitted under the 25 percent quota. The government also review all cases of schools that have sought and obtained “minority status” after the coming into force of the Right to Education Act. Revoke the minority status given to them if the number of children on their rolls has less than 25 percent students belonging to the minority community for which status has been given.

Comrade K Narayan seconded the resolution. Shailendra Kamble, member of the Secretariat of the Mumbai Committee conducted the proceedings. K K Theckedath, member of the CPI(M) state secretariat, emphasised the need for militant struggles and assured support on behalf of the college teachers. Student and Youth leaders also committed their support to this historic movement. The convention unanimously adopted the resolution which is given separately. It was also decided to collect signatures on the same and present it to education minister Tawade and seek anew his appointment for immediate action. (END)